Places: Antigone

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1946, in Nouvelles Pieces noires (English translation, 1946)

First produced: 1944, at the Théâtre l’Atelier, Paris

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: Antiquity

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Thebes

*Thebes Antigone (theebz). Ancient Greek city northwest of Athens that provides the nominal setting of this play. The play mentions Thebes a dozen times but provides no other historical or mythical references to strengthen its deliberately weak sense of place. On the contrary, other places mentioned in the text are resolutely unspecific.

Anouilh is determined not to provide local or historical color that could delay his audiences’ growing awareness that Thebes is merely a convenient label and the Greek princess Antigone an opportunistic topic, as his primary intention was to blur the distinction between reality and dramatic illusion and to confront the opposing themes of youth and age, resistance and collaboration, irresponsibility and the burdens of power, especially within the exceptional context of occupation by a foreign enemy. Thus, although the visible action never shifts from the royal Theban palace, there are references to the countryside just outside the city, where Antigone attempts to bury her brother, the drinking houses discussed enthusiastically by the guards as they gossip and ignore her distress, the garden and the beach, mention of which reveals the childlike side of her character, and the sinister Caves of Hades, where she is to be buried alive as a punishment for her crime.


Palace. Center of the royal Theban government and the principal stage setting for the play. Anouilh specified a neutral décor for the palace. On one level, ornate splendor would not befit this court, mourning the recent loss of so many members of the royal family. On another, it would delay the audiences’ realization that the action is also appropriate to contemporary France and, moreover, is often self-consciously theatrical. The creation of tension between the audience’s natural desire to suspend disbelief and its sophisticated awareness of these other levels is one of Anouilh’s major achievements.

BibliographyArcher, Marguerite. Jean Anouilh, 1971.Della Fazia, Alba. Jean Anouilh, 1969.Falb, Lewis W. Jean Anouilh. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1977. A generally reliable overview of Anouilh’s plays, prepared fairly late in his career. Somewhat more authoritative on the earlier works than on the later ones. Good discussion of Antigone.Harvey, John. Anouilh: A Study in Theatrics. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1964. Situates Anouilh’s major work within the world dramatic tradition, showing how even in Antigone, playability takes precedence over ideas. Generally useful discussion of Anouilh’s approach to stagecraft.Howarth, William D. Anouilh: Antigone. London: Edward Arnold, 1983. Prepared for a British student audience, Howarth’s volume provides useful background on Anouilh’s career, the Antigone theme in world literature, and historical context of the play’s first performances.Kelly, Kathleen White. Jean Anouilh: An Annotated Bibliography, 1973.Lenski, Branko Alan. Jean Anouilh: Stages in Rebellion, 1975.McIntyre, H. G. The Theatre of Jean Anouilh. London: Harrap, 1981. Although relatively brief, perhaps the most useful study of Anouilh’s entire dramatic output, finding continuity and consistency where other critics have not. Interpretation of Antigone shows Creon as the more exemplary character without stressing implications of war allegory.Pronko, Leonard C. The World of Jean Anouilh. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961. Perhaps the strongest early study of Anouilh in English, prepared as Anouilh turned fifty, with his future direction still to be determined; good analysis of Antigone.
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